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The 16 Years’ War and its Cost

Every night on American TV you can see repeating commercials to raise money for young people who’ve had limbs blown off. It might be cruel to ask the following question in the presence of these veterans, but millions of other people have been forced to pay for all of this, and they need to be protected as well.

And so, with condolences to the young people who signed up for these wars believing they were actually defending the good, we must ask this question: What was the payoff?

Some people will evade this question by maintaining that “freedom was preserved,” but that statement rests on a nebulous and self-serving definition of freedom… a definition that boils down to, “What we have is freedom.” Or it’s variant: “It’s worse in North Korea; therefore we’re free.” These lines of reasoning, of course, are fallacious.

The 16 Years’ War (Heading for 20 or More)

Time to buy old US gold coins

So, with apologies where due, I must assert that the payoff from all the bloodshed in Afghanistan and Iraq has been negligible. Both places are still a mess, and both places will likely remain a mess for a long, long time.

Almost 16 years of war have gone by in Afghanistan and more than 14 in Iraq. I think we should admit that any possibility of a “respectable win” is long past.

So, what was it all for? To make people feel they were getting revenge after 9/11? Was that really worth the cost? Bin Laden (whose official death story reeks) was sick and dying anyway. Or to “get” Hussein? He had been a US ally for many years before he was pushed into the role of the villain. So how reasonable is revenge in that case?

Were these two snorts of emotional cocaine worth their price?

Ah Yes… The Price

War is insanely expensive, so I’ve decided to crunch the numbers on this, and I think you’ll want to see them, especially if you’re an American.

And so, here, courtesy of Wikipedia, are the costs of the US military-industrial complex for the years 2001 through 2017:

2001                  $335 Billion

2002                  $362 Billion

2003                  $456 Billion

2004                  $491 Billion

2005                  $506 Billion

2006                  $556 Billion

2007                  $625 Billion

2008                  $696 Billion

2009                  $698 Billion

2010                  $721 Billion

2011                  $717 Billion

2012                  $681 Billion

2013                  $610 Billion

2014                  $614 Billion

2015                  $637 Billion

2016                  $522 Billion

2017                  $524 Billion

That comes to a staggering $9.751 trillion. And we should remember that this is for a nation bordered on the east and west by immense oceans, and on the north and south by nations that are more likely to dissolve than to invade. On top of that, The War on Drugs and other programs are only partly accounted for in these numbers.

The costs of just the Iraq and Afghan wars – if they could realistically be separated from the rest of the military-industrial complex – would be substantially lower. One report (PDF) has those costs for 2001 through 2011 at $1.28 trillion. Extending that figure through 2017 would yield a rough cost of $2.2 trillion.

But since no war can be fought without the underlying military-industrial complex (bases, training, recruitment, hospitals, logistics and so on), let’s split the difference between the total budget and $2.2T and call the money spent by the US government on these two wars $6 trillion.

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